When It Comes to Peace, Israel Is Having a Crisis of Faith

An agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, notwithstanding rumors of the demise of the very concept, is still achievable. And we have an obligation to pursue it.

AP

The use of the word “deadlock” to describe the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the inability to find a solution for it, is in itself overly conciliatory and forgiving, if not downright dishonest.

THE ISRAEL CONFERENCE ON PEACE - NOV. 12, TEL AVIV

There is no deadlock, because the human condition, unlike other materials, does not tolerate it. Where a vacuum is created or one element is weakened, another element fills the gap or becomes dominant at the expense of the affected element. In certain cases, such as the settling of Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) and its successors in the heart of the Israeli experience, the process can only occur under the vague and murky auspices that a relatively neutral word like “deadlock” suggests.

The term “deadlock” aims to describe the perfect preservation of a certain situation, circumstances, data, characteristics, as though they were dolls dozing on a shelf, waiting patiently for the appropriate conditions, the appropriate people and the right moment to be revivified or put to use.

For starters, however, that belief does not meet the test of reality. The circumstances that existed when Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was coerced into perpetuating Israeli military rule in the West Bank and applying Israeli law in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (parts of the “capital of Israel” into which no Israeli vehicle wants to or is able to enter) were far less complicated than the circumstances Yitzhak Rabin had to contend with in his second term as prime minister, during which he was assassinated before evacuating anyone from his home.

In Hebron, on seder night 1968, a few derring-do types who seemed to take a leaf from the “Hasamba” series of pulp-fiction children’s tales, deceived an establishment that was bloated with military victory but internally was cowardly and flaccid. They soon became the most powerful group in the country – irrespective of their proportion in the population – determining whether governments rise or fall, and imposing their will on the majority.

In recent years, even without terror stalking the streets, the debate over whether the ever-spiraling damage caused by the settlements is still something that can actually be reversed – that is, whether it is possible to evacuate settlers and settlements for the sake of a political agreement – has dissolved into clear-cut conclusions that are even gloomier than what the situation dictates.

For the truth is that the majority of settlers remain concentrated in tight settlement blocs, while most of the West Bank is dominated demographically by the Palestinians. An agreement, then, notwithstanding rumors of the demise of the very concept, is still achievable. Despite this, even leftists who abhor the occupation and violent solutions no longer believe in the feasibility of an agreement that would divide the land. In their grief they are turning to utopian solutions based on a binational state, in which absolute equality and touching coexistence would prevail, even though the Jerusalem case illustrates that what isn’t working in countries like Belgium and Spain won’t work here, either.

The word “deadlock” is not just a sanitized code name for acceleration of the construction of settlements, and their generous development through aggressive government policy (which definitely does play havoc with the solution of dividing the country). Diplomatic deadlock is in fact no less than a euphemism for despair and national depression. Not only of left-wingers, but of a nation and a people that in recent years have regressed into a fatal absence of faith in the idea of peace. Belief in a deadlock is evidence of insularity, turning inward, contraction – all salient signs of depression – toward a primitive, ascetic mechanism of preserving short-term existential needs while turning away in principle from the aspiration to a better future.

In the first decades of Israel’s existence, every child was taught that Israel’s hand has always been outstretched in peace and that this is a democracy that accords equal rights to everyone who lives under Israeli law. Even if this was a self-serving image and half false, and even if Israel existed as a true democracy for less than a year – from the annulment of the military government over the country’s Arab citizens in 1966 until the onset of the occupation the following year – that purported yearning for peace should not be belittled. Nor should we belittle the consequences of its being ground into the dust: Nowadays, children in Israel grow up with the certain knowledge that peace is not possible, and Jews stab Jews who look to them like Arabs.

The terrorism that followed the Oslo Accords shook the Israeli street, and dealt a serious blow to the vision of peace and faith in it; and the second intifada, which erupted following Ariel Sharon’s visit to the same Temple Mount that is today at the center of a bloody storm, destroyed the minimal Israeli faith that still lingered. But none of that, nor the horrific knifing attacks of recent weeks, despite their steep and tragic price, truly endanger Israel’s existential security. Nevertheless, they fomented a crisis of faith in the idea of peace and its feasibility, and served to push the nonviolent solution into the morgue refrigerator.

The ambition to pursue peace, something Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked boasts that she and her allies have succeeded in striking from the agenda, remains something of a moral threshold for a society, or at least one of the traits that indicates its character. It has the power to act as a barrier between a not-ideal reality, even one that is dispiriting, discriminatory, racist and brutal – but that can change given a certain window of opportunity (as with Yitzhak Rabin’s election as prime minister in 1992) – and a narrow, Spartan, isolationist path, one that entrenches itself shamelessly and unapologetically in nationalist and racist postures. That is the essence of the diplomatic deadlock. And it’s depressing, because it is indicative of nothing but depression.

The writer is a columnist for Haaretz.